February 1998

Three Rings Bad

by Maynard Hershon

Let's talk about bike club weekend rides. I mean the open-to-all rides advertised in Bicycle Paper, on club web sites or in widely distributed club newsletters.

We don't need to talk about ride details. They can be any-which-way and it won't matter much. There can be a leader or no leader. There can be a pre-selected route or destination - or the riders can decide as their cleats click into their pedals.

What defines club rides is how regulars treat strangers and weaker riders. Is the ride self-contained and run for the sole benefit of the regulars? Or is it warm-hearted and a learning experience for everyone?

Does it reach out to backpack Freds, spinning-class women and guys on REI hybrids?

It appears simple: If you invite people to your ride, you're going to feel responsible for them when they appear. You're going to make sure newcomers don't get lost or left behind, aren't you?

Simple. Everyone's supposed to have a good time. If newcomers do have a good time, they'll look forward to doing your ride again. Some may join your club. A healthy ride is a growing ride, right? Everyone agree?

Nope. Some clubs couldn't care less about new or slow riders, or riders they merely suspect MAY be slow. Not wanting to risk spoiling a workout for the regulars, they don't want to wait for slower riders or folks who don't know their ride routes.

They certainly don't encourage triple-chainring newcomers to join their rides.

If newcomers blow it and appear for their (advertised!) rides, no one greets them or introduces them around. Once the ride's rolling, no one monitors the newcomers on the road. They're ignored, probably dropped. They find their way home solo - if they remembered to bring a map.

Doggone Freds probably won't make THAT mistake again, eh?

Those clubs are happy with the numbers of cyclists who turn out for their rides. They're happy with the pace of their rides. They're doing all right. You can ask 'em.

They figure if people want to go on their rides, those people will train on their own. Eventually, they'll reach the level of fitness it takes to hang. That's how they buy their ticket-to-ride. That's how they qualify.

Those clubs don't coddle newcomers. Hey, they can hang or they can't, simple as that. The few worthy ones, tough ones, will learn to hang and fall in with the program. Soon they'll be as elitist as the rest.

"Hey, works for US," they say, "Do YOUR rides however you want."

They're sure they already draw the good riders in the area. They reckon the rest are "great unwashed" rusty-chain bozos who can't pedal a circle, ride a wheel or fix a flat. Anchors. Better off without 'em.

Hey, it's their club.

And I'll bet it's shrinking. Times have changed for cycling.

Some years ago, after the '84 Games, during Greg LeMond's career, road cycling was hot stuff. Three or four people on your block who didn't know each other might buy Centurion Ironman bicycles the same week.

In those days clubs could be as elitist as they wished. If their weekend rides only attracted one percent of local riders, that was plenty.

One percent won't cut it in the late '90s. Fewer people are taking up road cycling. Road cycling, like lots of pastimes, looks increasingly like a baby-boomer deal. Boomers are getting older, as the papers tell us daily. Not many boomers want IROC Camaros and RX-7s anymore, and not many want new Colnagos or Centurion Ironman equivalents.

That was then. Now, new riders brave enough to show up for what they know may be a competitive Saturday ride aren't popping up as often.

When they do appear, way more of them are women. Many of them, men or women, are already fit from running or spinning classes or other aerobic disciplines. They aren't cycling-fit or cycling-savvy, not yet, but they COULD be, in a few months, given encouragement on club rides.

But - when they show up Saturday morning, will anyone speak to them? Will anyone assume responsibility for helping them have a good time today, for helping them learn something about cycling today?

We were all on first-rides once. We weren't born knowing how to draft and choose gears or dress for chilly mornings. We learned that stuff little by little, mostly from companions on weekend club rides.

Hey, it's a New Year. I'd like to propose a moment of grateful silence for weekend club rides past and future. For years of friends and frosty sleeves and infrequent flat tires. For city-limit-sign sprints and post-ride coffees. For things we've learned and things we will learn.

End of sentimental moment.

It's your club. Are your rides healthy and growing? Ask yourself if your rides are inbred, uncaring affairs during which no one learns anything.

Ask yourself if you and your bike-crazy friends are good ambassadors, if you're sharing your love for cycling with others.

No, sharing it weekend after weekend with the same half-dozen guys doesn't count.

New road cyclists are an endangered species. Hunting them as a club and shooting them down is against the law. Or oughtta be.

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